Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton at bat in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers during the first spring training game. Can his bat rebound and make up for the defense lost when Michael Bourn left? Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Outfield Defense- Better or Worse in 2013? Part 1


Last week in my post on news you may have missed I quoted a fellow fan who said that the trade of Martin Prado et al for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson coupled with the departure of Michael Bourn for Cleveland (still can’t believe he had to settle for $7M his first year) and the signing of B.J. Upton had weakened the outfield defense. I looked up the runs created (RC) for each player as well and found that to be a net loss too.  I wanted to examine how the total numbers looked before and after the trades as make some sense of projections for this year to see what we can really expect from the Braves new and exciting outfield. This is part 1 of that look.

The Numbers Game

First we should get some general sense of what the terms I’ll be using are. Please note that I am in no way, shape or form an expert. The definitions come from those who are and my interpretations based on the way I understand what I read. That disclaimer aside lets look those numbers.

Defensive Runs Saved

DRS comes from the Fielding Bible which as Fangraphs explains rates players defensively measured by runs above or below average. It has been enhanced and improved over time and like all defensive metrics it has its shortcomings. Fansgraphs quotes an article by Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posanski. Who explained it like this.

. . .the numbers determines (using film study and computer comparisons) how many more or fewer successful plays a defensive player will make than league average. For instance, if a shortstop makes a play that only 24% of shortstops make, he will get .76 of a point (1 full point minus .24). If a shortstop BLOWS a play that 82% of shortstops make, then you subtract .82 of a point. And at the end, you add it all up and get a plus/minus.”

Fangraphs also has a chart I’ve used before to show relative value for the numbers assigned to a player.

Defensive Ability DRS
Gold Glove Caliber +15
Great +10
Above Average +5
Average 0
Below Average -5
Poor -10
Awful -15

Last year the Braves had the best defensive outfield in the majors*.

Name DRS UZR UZR/150
Michael Bourn 24 22.4 22.5
Jason Heyward 20 21.5 20.3
Martin Prado 12 10.7 16.6
Major League Rank #1 – Totals** 56 45.6 59.4

*Based on UZR

**Totals include all outfielders used in 2012

(Source Fangraphs.com)

Bourn and Heyward were number one and two amongst all outfielders while Prado was 13th. The only other National League outfielders ahead of Prado were Chris Young (11th) and Alfonso Soriano – yes I was shocked too – (9th). The Upton brothers didn’t fare nearly as well.

Name DRS UZR UZR/150
Justin Upton 2 -2.1 -2.1
B J Upton -4 -2.4 -3.2

A quick glance and application of basic math skills shows the net change in the Braves new outfield over 2012.

Name DRS UZR UZR/150
Left -10 -12.8 -18.7
Center -28 -24.8 -25.7

Any way you look at it the outfield is significantly worse defensively this year than last; at least statistically. That is particularly true in center where a statistically below average player takes over from 2012’s best center fielder. I wondered if perhaps 2012 was just an off year since I find UZR wildly inconsistent in its rankings so I gathered the data for the last three years and averaged the numbers.

Last Three Seasons DRS UZR UZR/150
B J Upton -19 1.4 1.9
-7 1.4 1.6
-4 -2.4 -3.2
Three Year Average -10 .11 0.1
Justin Upton 2 -2.1 -2.1
2 5.5 7.1
8 7.7 6.8
Three Year Average 4 3.7 3.93

The three year average didn’t make the elder Upton brother look any better. He’s had a positive DRS only once in his career – +1 in 2007 – and his best UZR years were 7.8 in 2008 and 6.7 in 2009. His UZR has declined since that time. A look at all major league center fielders puts him 14th of 15 by DRS. Total UZR puts him 5th but Fangraphs says not to add UZR. Instead it recommends averaging it  and as seen above, his three year average is, well average. Lee would want me to note that being an average major league outfielder doesn’t make you a bad outfielder.  That’s true,  B.J. isn’t a bad outfielder but he isn’t close to being a great or even a plus defender.

As a right fielder Justin Upton ranked 5th of 19 in UZR and DRS over that time His best year was 2011 when it hit eight. That year also recorded his highest UZR – a 7.7. He had the same UZR in 2007. He was injured early in 2011 so giving him the benefit of the doubt and using 2009-2011 numbers his DRS still averages right at 4 and his UZR jumps to a more respectable 7.3.

I don’t worry about Justin Upton as a left fielder. In fact he could well become one of the finest around at that spot. Prado was moving to third in any case and any other left fielder we could have signed would likely have been nearer to zero that 19. Without delving into infielders I think Juan Francisco will prove above average at third base as well.

That’s A Wrap

It became clear after the signing that the GM had stars in his eyes and couldn’t read the stat sheet when instead of trading a minor league pitching prospect for Denard Span, he paid $4M a year more than anyone else was going to offer – and certainly more than the numbers dictated – to get B.J. His rationale was that any defensive shortcomings would be compensated for by his power RH bat. That’s always been the question in baseball where hitting was the better skill than the player’s defense; will his bat carry his glove. I’ll look at what the numbers say about that next time.

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  • fireboss

    I’ve been told I’ll like BJ in center, he plays shallow and stops a lot of bloops from becoming hits and he was CF on a successful post season team the lats few years. The wow factor of having the brothers together will wear off and as with the Uggla signing fans will want performance. We shall see if we get that

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